Nature on Tap – A Night at the Notebaert

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This fox worked hard for some dinner. We didn’t have that stress. Our night was catered.

Last week the MALS/IDS program invited all current and former students to a social night at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.  The museum hosts a Nature on Tap event once a month to let an adults-only crowd enjoy beer and full access to the museum.  MALS and IDS students were joined by folks from several other DePaul programs and it ended up being a fantastic night.  We saw a lot of you there and hope our next social event is an even bigger hit.

I had never been to the Notebaert so the night was filled with surprises.  The first was the healthy beer selection the museum offered.  Several microbreweries as well as wine, cider and craft sodas were available.  I stuck with the the Octoberfest since they were selling it for three dollars in order to use up the inventory before November.  The rest of their selection was still reasonably priced at around $6.  All MALS/IDS students got in free and anyone else with a DePaul ID got in for a reduced price.  Regular admission is only $10 so it makes for a pretty cheap date.  Not that I’m encouraging romantic frugality.

The first floor included a river display, the ongoing City Creatures exhibit, explored energy in the home as well as what is underneath the soil – including sewer lines, garbage and more.  The river display was hands on but geared for children and some aspects were turned off for the night, however, turtles could be spotted among other wildlife.  The energy efficient home was interesting but anyone used to utility bills, let alone homeownership, probably knew most of the information.  The urban wildlife display was fantastic.  Some wonderful photos and artistic works would enchant any art lover.

The second floor continued the energy efficient home.  The germs of the bathroom and a funny video inside the refrigerator made the display humorous if nothing else.  Once leaving the model house, the second floor has much more of the typical nature museum exhibits.  Taxidermied animals of all kinds as well as a lengthy exhibit about the prairie were highlights.  The full buffalo on display was impressive.  Unfortunately I could only take 200 pounds of meat back to my wagon.

For those returning to the museum during regular operational hours with young kids, there is a great Peanuts and Nature display on the second floor.  I can imagine toddlers running around while their parents laugh at the classic Charles Schultz strips that adorn the walls.

The second floor also houses the crown jewel of the Notebaert – the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven.  The live butterfly sanctuary and informational display is impressive.  The amount of butterflies in the room as well as small birds zipping around is a treat.  After the room with active life, there is an exhibit about the life cycles, migration patterns, and countless pinned butterfly and moth specimens.  Alas my question of “do caterpillars know what is going on when they build a cocoon?” went unanswered.

Despite the butterflies being the most famous exhibit, I actually enjoyed something more.  Several museum experts were on hand with some great taxidermy.  In keeping with the Halloween theme of the night, the creatures on hand were nocturnal animals like skunks, raccoons and owls.  The museum staff was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and patient as this liberal arts person asked what had to be embarrassingly easy questions for people who have studied the hard sciences.  Getting to be that close up to these animals really makes you understand and appreciate their biology.

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Spit Creek Paddlers dazzles with some Bluegrass.

The Nature on Tap nights include food for purchase as well as live music.  On our night we enjoyed the bluegrass trio Spit Creek Paddlers and Indian fare from Bombay Wraps.  The chicken tikka was a steal at five dollars.  Filling and spicy – it hit the spot.  The samosas were selling like hot cakes, too.  There is also trivia when they host these events.  Unfortunately I had an essay due the next day and could not stay as late as I would have liked.  Next time!

It is obvious that the Notebaert has the unenviable balancing act of catering towards family-friendly audiences and adults like most museums.  Yes, the river, Peanuts and home energy displays are child-oriented but there was plenty for adults to see.  The music, beer, food, and trivia more than make up for a few displays that adults would feel were lacking.  Additionally the outstanding butterfly sanctuary and on-hand experts are wonderful resources even during regular museum hours.  This was a great way to be introduced to another museum and I know I’ll return to the Notebaert, especially for future Nature on Tap events.

Post written by Josh Cook, MALS/IDS graduate assistant